Be bold! Sermon for Pentecost Praise 2017

IMG_0119From the Letter to the Ephesians chapter 6: “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Be bold, be strong. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for I, the Lord your God, am with you wherever you go.” That’s the verse from Joshua chapter 1 that is on my pinboard where I see it whenever I sit down at my desk. Because despite all the extraversion that being a bishop demands, I am as some of you will know actually a class A introvert, who can find even a nature programme on the telly a bit too exciting at the end of a busy day.

So I really value the prayers which you say for me right across the diocese and so often, because it is by them and by the power of the Holy Spirit that I can keep on getting up on my hind legs and proclaiming the good news of new life in Jesus Christ our Lord, with the boldness it deserves and our world surely needs.

I want to talk about boldness tonight. Not aggression, or even self-assertiveness. But the work of the Spirit who can enable us to be more like Jesus and do more of his work, whatever our personality type, and with the sort of gracious power that only comes from him.

I’m reminded of a line in a song one of sons learned when he was little, at a Christian camp – and I apologise for the awful pun, which will also be pretty awful for our signers to translate, but:

With Jesus as your rock you can be a little bo(u)lder

Because I am not very outgoing, when I do try to be I know it can come over in ways that are a bit OTT, and I am very grateful for the forbearance of a gracious diocese for the times when I throw my hat in the air, or wave my arms around, or just can’t stop enthusing about the grace and love of God.

I also know that the best antidote, perhaps the only real antidote, to either staying stumm or going over the top, is to take time to take it all to God first, to pray. That’s what can turn what might have become the David show, God willing, into a time when God himself can speak. That can bring the sort of wisdom that gives real strength, strength with something of the peace of God about it, the very opposite of shrill or self-centred, which is what makes the difference in the long run. Because though a bold pushy blast can make people jump, it is the longer game of grace that wins their hearts and minds for God’s ways.

Contrast the behaviour of some in political and campaigning life with the example of Pope Francis, who doesn’t just “come across” as both bold and humble at the same time, we are sure in our hearts that this is authentically how he is. Chris Lowney, a former managing director of J.P. Morgan Chase, put it this way:

“We were not watching someone trying to act like a pope. We were watching a person unafraid to be who he was.”

What Lowney knew as a former Jesuit seminarian, but doesn’t say, perhaps because he was writing for a business audience, is that such self-leadership comes not from a huge ability of the self, but from the simple ability in faith and prayer to let Jesus Christ lead us and let our self come second to him. As St Paul puts it in writing to the Galatians: “ I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.”

You will have come here tonight with some very different life journeys behind you and ahead of you. But we are dealing with a universal of human nature here. Each of us has to choose. Is it to be life mark 1, ever trying and ever failing to lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps, destined as Paul again writes to a future of futility, with casualties strewn along the way, including in the end us? Or is to be life mark 2, born again into Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, doing life as Jesus did, with him in us the hope of glory, discovering the wonderful truth that against all the odds of human calculation, love wins – and being fired up to share that love not with the explosives of the terrorist but with the outpouring of the Spirit, changing us from the inside out to become the bold front line of love for the coming of God’s kingdom.

This is the Spirit of boldness that we, that you are being called into today, as old patterns of church life designed to maintain an established church give way to new more adventurous ones as we reach out again to a society that has lost its faith and lost its way. We are all leaders now.

And it’s starting to happen right here. New expressions of church are springing up all across the diocese, with new leaders who may be newly committed Christians themselves. Messy Church, Forest Church, Sport Church, church in pubs, church with pizza, vintage Messy Church too for older folk like me. Infectious faith is touching every age group and in every sort of locality. We are on course to hit our target of having as many new expressions of church as our inherited ones by 2025, with an honoured place for both. Your confirmation tonight is a commissioning not just into the membership but the leadership of the mission of Christ.

So tonight you are choosing life mark 2! Be ready for some significant heart surgery. When we pray the Holy Spirit will be with us, with you, in you, starting to give you God’s new heart, a spirit not of frozen timidity but of living power. That movement of the heart may be very evident to you right here in this service. It may be something you only become aware of later. I remember one person who had come to faith some time earlier who was in the bath when she suddenly sat up and starting praising God, her heart as John Wesley said, strangely warmed, and not by the bathwater. But whether sooner or later, the gift is given, and can never be taken away. God is good, and he has given his word.

So for each of our amazing candidates for confirmation tonight and for every single one of us gathered with them in this season of prayer for the coming of the kingdom, we pray

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.